By Alex Gonzalez
Finneas has been keeping busy. The Grammy-winning singer-songwriter/producer made an appearance at this year’s MTV VMAs on September 12, where his sister, Billie Eilish, won Best Latin for her Rosalía collaboration “Lo Vas a Olvidar” and Video For Good for “Your Power” — songs he co-wrote and produced. The next day, he attended the Met Gala, stunning in a bright red Givenchy suit. The following week, he flew to London for the world premiere of No Time to Die, for which he co-wrote the Eilish-sung theme song.
When MTV News catches up with him about a week later on a Saturday morning, the 24-year-old is still riding the high of playing his own solo set at Austin City Limits 2021. “I had a great crowd, and then I took a little car straight over to see Megan Thee Stallion, who went on right as I finished,” he says. “That was just mind-blowing.”
He’s also been thinking. His debut solo album, Optimist, out today (October 15), contains themes of getting older, existentialism, and contemporary justice issues. On “The Kids Are All Dying,” he mentions he “tried picking a cause, but I got confused.” But this does not mean he’s apathetic. During his ACL set, he shouted, “Fuck [Governor] Greg Abbott!” and pledged to donate his paycheck to Planned Parenthood in protest of Texas’s six-week abortion ban. Above all, Finneas stresses the importance of addressing climate change in order to have a shot at enjoying the new world people of his generation are working to create.
“Without addressing climate change, there’ll never be time to address any other cause,” Finneas tells MTV News, unpacking what he sings explicitly about on “The Kids Are Dying.” “Every other hot-button issue right now, other people can put more articulately, but the gun-violence epidemic in America is crazy and very preventable to me. We have a very systematically racist justice system in this country. We’re still miles away from true gender equality in terms of women’s rights … I think that, unfortunately, climate change probably takes precedence over all of them, because if we addressed everything else, but not climate change, we’d have a very short amount of time where everything was great, and then our world would go to shit.”
As his green stance suggests, Finneas enjoys spending time outdoors. Some of his fondest memories of growing up in Los Angeles include going to the Huntington botanical gardens and the arboretum with his mom and friends, rock climbing, and playing in parks. When he has downtime on tour — a precious commodity given his globetrotting treks with Eilish, alongside whom he performs in arenas — he goes on hikes, or he will walk to a coffee shop to decompress.
Time in the world makes for a good reprieve from his phone and social media, to which he admits he has a slight addiction. He talks about his relationship with the internet on songs like “The 90s,” “The Kids Are All Dying,” and “Medieval.” On the latter, he sings, “What does it matter if you’re not fine? / You should’ve kept that shit offline.”
“I’m looking at my phone the second before I fall asleep,” he says. “And I’m looking at it the second I wake up in the morning. I don’t pretend that’s a healthy relationship. I find it entertaining. I find it anxiety-inducing. Sometimes I find it comforting. I’m very addicted to it. And I think like any addiction, I feel not necessarily ashamed of it, but conscious of it. I feel sort of a little regretful of it.”
At the same time, Finneas recognizes the internet’s immense power and its inherent necessity in spreading and amplifying the music he makes as both a singer-songwriter under his own name and a producer for others. “I know that I wouldn’t have the career that I have without the internet, so I want to acknowledge that. But I think we all are using the internet in a way that in the future we may look back on and think, ‘Wow, that was not healthy.’”
Finneas first got into production at 12 years old, when he purchased the recording software Logic Pro. He still uses it and runs it through the Apollo x8p interface, while recording his vocals through the Redd microphone by Chandler Limited. Since learning how to make and write music, Finneas has built an impressive résumé, as well a list of songwriting and production credits longer than a Rite Aid receipt.
Having penned and produced tracks for Justin Bieber, Halsey, and Demi Lovato — and even considering his two albums with Eilish as well as his Grammy win for Producer of the Year, Non-Classical — Finneas admits that there’s no song that he wishes he would’ve kept for himself. Each artist will take his demos and make it their own, he says. He still gets goosebumps whenever he hears a track from the Finneas songbook on the radio, in Target, or at a cafe.
“We went to the Met Gala, and that was crazy in and of itself,” he says, “but I’m sitting there, and there’s a special performer and they won’t tell anybody who it is. I’m like, ‘Oh, I wonder who it is,’ and they won’t say. They’re like, ‘It’s going to be a special performer.’ And I’m sitting there and the most famous people in the world are all in the room. And I’m like, ‘God, I wonder who it is?’ And Justin Bieber came out and he opened with [Finneas collaboration] ‘Lonely,’ and I was like, ‘Oh my god. That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.’”
Like many artists, Finneas spent much of his quarantine writing songs — for himself and others. His favorite was “Only a Lifetime,” a piano-driven track on which he sits down to appreciate life for both its ups and downs, and reminds us to make the most of our time on earth. “It’s only a lifetime,” he sings. “That’s not long enough / You’re not gonna like it without any love, so don’t waste it.”
“During lockdown,” he says, “I basically was like, ‘This is OK, I’m going on hikes with my dog, I’m cooking dinner with my girlfriend every night, I’m making an album with my sister. You need to stop taking this for granted, because a couple years from now, you’re going to look back and you’re going to miss this. You’re genuinely going to miss this period.’”
Fortunately, he gets to resume playing shows, as he will embark on a 17-date, month-long tour. Finneas has traveled all over the world, but says there are very few places he’d rather live than L.A. He recently picked up a new habit to help make hotel rooms feel like home.
“I have this little candle that I love,” he says. “I have a big version at home and I’ve got a tiny travel one and I light it in my hotel room, because hotel rooms sometimes can smell kind of funky. I have the same scent now in all my hotels and I just carry it with me, light it everywhere I go. And it just makes me calmer and happier.”